Deep in the heart of Florida, there’s a fight between generational farmers and every outside force below and above the soil to keep Florida oranges on trees and in consumer homes. Citrus Famer Christian Spinosa comments: “I’ve been working on our family citrus and beef cattle operation out of Bartow, Florida. I’m a fifth-generation citrus and beef cattle producer,” Spinosa said.
Spinosa owns Putnam Grove, a thousand acres of the more than 400,000 acreages of citrus groves in the state, and sells most of his oranges to Florida’s Natural orange juice. “It’s changed a lot over the years. If it hasn’t been for freezes or canker or stasia and now citrus greening is what we’re currently facing,” he explained.
Citrus greening has been a Florida farmer’s plague since 2005. This, coupled with a recent freeze in Florida, is frightening news for orange production. In 2022, the USDA predicts the sunshine state will produce the smallest batch of oranges since WWII, at 43.5 million boxes. The sad reality is, Florida Citrus Mutual estimates citrus acreage in the state is about half of what it was 20 years ago, with 60% of growers leaving the industry in the last five years.
“When you sell your land for 20, USD30,000 an acre and it’s a business decision. It’s not a demand decision. It’s a business decision,” said Steve Johnson, owner of Johnson Harvesting. Johnson’s family has owned their citrus grove in Wauchula since the 1930s. For him, selling isn’t an option.
“Florida’s — it’s very important that citrus stays alive. It roughly, there’s 33,000 jobs that are involved in citrus, there’s about USD6.7 billion in economic impact. So the citrus industry plays a huge role in the economy,” Johnson explained.
These oranges aren’t just going to local grocery stores, Florida groves supply about 95% of the entire country’s orange juice. “One of the beauty parts behind the pandemic was the demand for orange juice went up because it’s a great quality product. It’s got vitamin C and it’s a healthy product,” Johnson said.
A recent Nielsen report reveals orange juice sales are the highest they’ve been in years, but as we know, supply and demand affects prices. In the last year, orange juice prices went up more than 25%, according to Insider Market, and they are expected to continue rising.
However, these farmers say paying the premium is the only way to help keep their crops alive. Florida farmers are constantly trying to figure out how to adapt to greening and keep trees healthy.